Stacking the Deck in Support of Online Education (Letter)


To publishers:

In their Feb. 3 essay, members of the National Council for Online Education claim that online classes — properly delivered — are at least as good as in-person classes. As evidence, they’re not linked to a study or meta-analysis, but to an article database, which is a bit like my medical statement followed by a link to PubMed, except in In this case, the database was specifically designed to be biased. . It’s literally called the “No Significant Differences Database,” and its belated claim to solicit studies that show a significant difference seems a bit hypocritical.

It currently contains 141 studies showing no significant difference, with 51 showing better online and 0 showing better in class and 0 showing mixed results. Using a typical p

But I think the real problem that has plagued proponents of online courses over the past two years is that, for the first time on a large scale, the use of online courses has been randomized (often by university or state) . Many institutions have taught both online and face-to-face classes for years, but few have strength students to online courses. So students studying online were self-selected, which breaks the first rule of testing the effectiveness of anything – randomizing your sample. At my own university, a number of students in my face-to-face classes had tried online and didn’t like it, and specifically chose in-person classes. It’s no wonder these students were unhappy or underachieving when they were forced back online.

It is certainly true that there is a real difference between courses carefully planned to be online and courses abruptly forced to be remote. What tells me, however, are the reports that the courts less courses that were online from the start were popular with our students suddenly online. Professors who had taught online for many years were surprised that their asynchronous best-practices online courses suddenly drew a lot of complaints, unlike the Zoom-my-lessons-classroom-mock courses. We know that learning gains and student satisfaction are not perfectly correlated, but this highlights the problem of self-selection.

In April 2020, it was fair to say that many “online” courses were not well designed. However, it is rather bizarre to claim this in February 2022. If almost two years of experience and training on designing online courses, including universities running them all through Quality Matters, does not result in acceptable online courses, are we setting an impossible standard?

I think we all understand that the future will have a mix of in-person and online courses, probably with more online courses than before due to the flexibility it offers. It works well for some students and is necessary to serve those full-time jobs. Many professors who previously said they would never teach online now see it as a realistic possibility.

What I’d like to see are proponents of online courses honestly confronting the fact that the format doesn’t work well for some students and for some courses. And I would like them to reject any studies that did not randomize modality assignment.

–David Syphers

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